For over 45 years, Kazuhiko Inoue has been one of Japan’s most prolific seiyuus. But before he got into voice acting, he attempted to become a professional bowling player and after six months, it just didn’t work out for him. After living as a shut-in (or hikikomori) for a couple of months, he found work as a production crew member at a TV station and during that time he decided to become a voice actor. Kazuhiko Inoue enrolled at a special voice training school in Tokyo’s Ginza District and studied under Ichirō Nagai, one of anime’s legends. Shortly after graduating, he got work in commercials and TV dramas and he eventually found his way into anime, debuting in Mazinger Z in 1973 as a random soldier. Since then, Kazuhiko Inoue has gone one to play some iconic roles in Japanese pop culture.
5. Reiji Arisu from Project X Zone 2: Brave New World
- Platform: 3DS
- Publisher: Bandai Namco Games
- Developer: Monolith Soft
- Release Date: November 12, 2015 (Japan), February 16, 2016 (North America)
In this crossover game starring characters from Namco, Capcom, and Sega, Inoue plays Reiji, a character that isn’t exclusive to any brand and just happens to be an original presence. As Reiji, a secret agent of Shinra, you have a character who has many unique dimensions, but tends to stay level headed despite the numerous crises he faces from numerous worlds. Through Inoue, you feel that Reiji is not only excellently trained as an agent, but is equally as seasoned on the field. In comparison to his partner Xiaomu who likes to crack jokes, Reiji is all business and also does an effective job of portraying his annoyance of Xiaomu’s laid back attitude and wanting to get the job done. When it comes to Saya, his rival, he shows a more enraged side due to the character blaming her for the loss of his father.
4. Kars from Jojo no Kimyou na Bouken (JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure)
- Episodes: 26
- Air Dates: October 6, 2012 – April 6, 2013
In Battle Tendency, the second arc to JoJo, Inoue plays Kars, the main villain. Though Kars is calm like Reiji and Kakashi, Inoue expresses those qualities more appropriately as a sadistic villain in this series with the way he takes. The way he looks down on humans like they’re nothing may not compare to Dio, but the power he possesses when he obtains the Red Stone of Aja in his ultimate form is still a threat. In that form, Inoue makes Kars megalomaniacal as he speaks in a higher pitch than what Inoue’s fans are used to. Through Inoue, fans can feel his Kars’ lust for power and that in the end, victory is all that matters no matter what you have to do in order to get it.
3. Jerid Messa from Kidou Senshi Zeta Gundam (Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam)
- Episodes: 50
- Air Dates: March 2, 1985 – February 22, 1986
To many Gundam fans, they likely associate Inoue as Jerrid Mesa, one of Kamille’s initial rivals in Zeta Gundam. In context to being a villain, he thinks lowly of other people and has an ego as high as the Empire State Building. Jerid’s rivalry with Kamille began after he assumed to be a woman after hearing his feminine sounding name, and Kamille punches him in the face and things escalate from there. The way Inoue says “otoko da,” or “it’s a boy,” he delivers it with a convincing sick sense of humor like it’s nothing, and it effectively introduces the foundation of Jerid’s personality of how he looks down on others. As the series progresses, you feel his rage continue to escalate and you see a different kind of emotion through Inoue’s performance that you don’t see in any of his other performances where he tends to stay cool headed. The fact that he can portray rashness (in comparison to let’s say Kakashi) demonstrates more diversity to Inoue’s talents.
2. Gildarts Clive in Fairy Tail
- Episodes: 175
- Air Dates: October 12, 2009 – March 30, 2013
Though Inoue maintains his calm sounding voice as Gildarts, he appropriately brings out a sense of scruffiness that reflects the true nature of the character. In addition to the character being scruffy, he is laid-back like Kakashi but is also unusually strong. Heck, we’re talking about a guy who can walk through brick walls like they’re paper! Along with the character’s strength, through Inoue’s portrayal, you also feel Gildarts’ sense of honor and control when it comes to fights. He’s aware that he can’t control his strength and yet exhibits that he cares about not wanting to harm innocents. Thanks to Inoue’s performance, fans can feel that unorthodox balance of Gildarts being childish, as someone who has lived the crazy life, and as someone who truly cares about others.
1. Kakashi Hatake from Naruto
- Episodes: 220
- Air Dates: October 3, 2002 – February 8, 2007
At number one, we have to give it to his international breakout role of Kakashi from Naruto. As Kakashi, he may come across as unassuming but he’s one of Konoha’s most elite ninjas (and for awhile, the Hokage). Thanks to his honed skills and experience, Inoue portrays Kakashi as someone who is articulate in the ways of the ninja, but also hides a bizarre sadistic side to him with the fact that not many people can pass his tests (he loves his sennen goroshi). Kakashi is someone who reasonably has high standards and Inoue’s performance finds a way to show these qualities while also being able to be playful and mean business when it’s appropriate.
Kazuhiko Inoue has done comedy, drama, and a mix of both. He can play the hero and he can play the villain and the fact that he has done many iconic roles in Japanese pop culture is a true testament to his talents. Beyond what we listed, what are some of your favorite roles of Kazuhiko Inoue?